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February 14, 2006 > Cardiac Rehab Keeps the Beat Alive

Cardiac Rehab Keeps the Beat Alive

Our hearts consistently and reliably beat in our chests and most of us never give it a second thought. For those who have had a heart attack, angina or coronary artery disease, a less predictable heart can suddenly create a sense of vulnerability. A cardiac rehabilitation program helps heart patients find the physical, emotional and psychological strength to take care of their hearts so their hearts will take care of them. National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week (February 12 through 18) helps promote the role of prevention in the treatment of heart disease and serves to remind all of us of the importance of overall heart health.

"People will have chest pain and come into the hospital, usually through the Emergency Room, and they're told they have had a heart attack or angina. For people who haven't had a heart problem, or a history of heart problems in the family, this will really throw them for a loop," explains Dee Dee Borza R.N., manager of Washington Hospital's Cardiac Rehabilitation program.

After a heart event or surgery, a doctor will recommend cardiac rehab for patients to get their body and mind on the right track to lower the risk of future heart problems. At Washington Hospital, the Phase Two and Phase Three outpatient programs in cardiac rehab teach patients to learn what they can do physically and emotionally for heart health. Phase Two is telemetry monitored cardiac rehabilitation that starts four to six weeks after an acute event and continues for six to twelve weeks. Phase Two includes exercise and individualized counseling. Phase Three is a supervised exercise maintenance program that may continue for many years.

"There are physical benefits of cardiac rehab," Borza says. "It strengthens the heart muscle, gives general body conditioning, helps lower blood pressure, helps to increase good cholesterol, works in conjunction with a weight loss program and really helps with blood sugar control."

Borza emphasizes, however, that the psychological benefits of cardiac rehab are equally important for a heart patient. Many patients begin cardiac rehab with lower self-confidence, unsure of what they and their bodies are capable of doing now that their heart is at risk. The rehab program starts at a low intensity and within about four weeks, the patient starts to feel better about the body, heart and mind.

"Many feel anxious and depressed, which is very natural. But we don't want people to wallow in their depression. It can be the beginning of a new, healthier way of life," Borza says.

Borza notes that formal studies and her personal experience have shown that cardiac rehab programs and support groups improve the mortality rate of heart patients. Along with the Phase Two and Phase Three rehab programs, Washington Hospital is home to Chapter 110 of the Mended Hearts, a national cardiac support group for heart disease patients and their families.

Over the course of the Phase Three rehab program, Borza has seen patients return once or twice a week for up to 19 years to continue to reap the benefits of the supervised maintenance program. Phase Three can be an ongoing exercise and counseling program for anyone with a heart condition or who is at risk for heart problems due to high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia or diabetes.

"Heart disease can be life threatening so it gives many people a wake up call," Borza says. "It's a big change in their condition and in their life."

The Phase Two cardiac rehab program at Washington Hospital meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There are seven, one-hour classes that meet throughout the day starting at 8:00 a.m., with the last class starting at 5:15. You must have a physician referral to participate.

Phase Three is open to heart patients for cardiac exercise and counseling about lifestyle and risks. Patients get individualized attention from critical care nurses trained in Advanced Cardiac Life Support. Phase Three costs $8.50 a session. For information on Phase Two or Phase Three, call (510) 494-7022 or visit the hospital Web site at, click on "Services and Program," choose "Heart Program" on the pull-down menu and then click on "Cardiac Rehabilitation."

The Mended Hearts support group is for people who have had heart surgery, heart attack, angioplasty, angina or other heart conditions. Families and loved ones are welcome. The group meets from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. Call (510) 494-7022 for information.

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